Leaving Burketown, we continued south along the Wills Development Road to the tiny hamlet of Gregory, a trip of around 120-kilometres through prime ‘Channel Country’ of wide-open savannah plains and plenty of beef cattle.
It was a warm morning and we are looking forward to a swim in the beautiful waters of the Gregory River we had heard so much about. Our plan was to stay for a few nights.
There was not a lot to the small hamlet of Gregory. With a population of around 40 it was named by explorer William Landsborough on 19 November 1861, after Augustus Charles Gregory explorer and first Surveyor General of Queensland.
The town was built on the homestead site of the historic Gregory Downs station, one of the first cattle runs in the Gulf Savannah.
This station was one of a range of properties established on ‘Lort Stokes’ Plains of Promise’, a vast monsoonal savannah stretching from Gregory Downs to the Leichhardt Rivers and it wasn’t until 2013 that the name of this little town changed to just ‘Gregory’.
Today Gregory is a roadside stop with a few houses, a medical clinic serviced by the Royal Flying Doctor, a works depot, a caravan park, a corrugated iron shop that serves great coffees and sells frozen bread at $7.50 a loaf and a typical outback pub providing meals, cold beer and fuel to locals, campers and truckies…
… and a few unloved showers and loos, obviously a favourite hangout for a couple of the locals after I spotted the big eyes of a green frog peering back at me from a gap behind the cistern before it hopped onto the seat to say hello!
The old pub is the heart and soul of this little town and was originally built to service passengers on the coach run from Burketown.
At one time it was a Mounted Police post and in World War II, officers at this station rose to prominence when along with Doomadgee Aboriginal trackers they searched for the crew of the ditched plane ‘Little Eva’, which had flown out of Iron Range Airport for a bombing run to New Guinea but became disoriented in a tropical storm.
There were a couple of options for us to camp at Gregory but the first track we took in the dusty, uninteresting designated free camp area on the top side of the river led us to the campsite of an Aboriginal family where we were quickly waved away.
The indigenous populations from the Gangalidda Garawa and Waanyi traditional owner groups call this river ‘Ngumarryina’.
We had been told so much about the Gregory River but it wasn’t until we crossed the bridge that it soon became obvious we had found the piece of paradise everyone raved about… and it was going to be very hard to find a space at this extremely popular campground on the banks of the beautiful, fast flowing brook!
Grey nomads were camped up everywhere in their big caravans and motorhomes, ignoring all signage telling them NOT to camp along the river…
… but fortunately for us several campers had vacated only minutes before our arrival and we were able to manoeuvre our way past many camps along a narrow track to reach a secluded creek spot that was shaded by large gums, had wonderful views up and down the waterway and we could step straight off the bank to soak in the cool water. It also helped we drove a 4WD with a rooftop tent, and we could tuck ourselves right away from the crowds.
This incredible Gulf country continued to surprise us and Gregory was no exception. It is an amazing place of dry, dusty, cracked earth devoid of water and food for the many creatures that live off this land…
… but when we descended into the rocky river bed of the Gregory River there was nothing but a tropical oasis of Pandanus and River Gums.
It was an ideal camping spot where we could sit back and watch the river flow by with nothing to cause us any stress… except what to choose for dinner that night!
The surrounding scrub teemed with wildlife and birdlife and we spent many hours watching purple crested wrens zipping around the Pandanus and in and out of the gums. Small Archer fish swam in and out of the roots of surrounding trees that lay exposed by the flowing current or amongst the pandanus that created a fringe along the banks.
In all our travels around Australia we have seen a few dangerous creatures like spiders, snakes and crocodiles but we hadn’t really paid much attention to poisonous plants until this trip having come across a few signs warning of what to stay clear of near rivers, gorges and around our bush campsites… and of course according to the tourist signage boards in this tiny town, the poisonous plants we first came across at Murray Falls between Townsville and Cairns were also along the Gregory River.
Over the next couple of days, we relaxed with a good book and a glass of wine and enjoyed a daily dip in the fast-flowing waters.
We joined other campers, adults and children, and spent many hours allowing the fast-flowing river take us on a ride downstream on noodles before returning back to the starting point to do it all again!
We walked the rivers edge and soon began to distinguish between the leaves of the dangerous plants and the not so dangerous ones.
We chatted with a few dedicated fishermen as they tried their luck at catching Sooty Grunter or the elusive barra!
We walked over the old bridge and along the river track into town (mostly to visit the amenities as there were no toilets close to the river and no privacy to dig a hole far enough from the rivers edge)… but it was only short hike of around 1-kilometre up and back…
… and we were entertained into the early hours of each morning by the permanent local residents camped upstream who had developed an unfortunate (for us) nocturnal habit of partying through the night and sleeping through the day. These small communities had become a familiar sight along watercourses across northern Australia.
After a couple of days lazing beside the Gregory River we reluctantly moved on…
… this time it was only a short drive of 90-kilometres down a dusty, corrugated road to Adels Grove from where we would spend the next few days exploring Boodjamulla National Park, formerly known as the Lawn Hill National Park.
Boodjamulla National Park campground was completely booked out for weeks to come but surprisingly a phone call to the fire stricken Adels (which only weeks before had had its restaurant and administration/ tourism area destroyed), soon secured a booking for 2 nights even though they were only taking limited bookings.
Just a word of warning… if you plan on camping at Boodjamulla National Park, you really do need to book well in advance! We usually try and ‘wing it’ with the hope there will be something available… but it didn’t work for us this time!
Leaving the Gregory River, the next part of our journey took us through much the same country we had been travelling for some time… the occasional Wattles and Eucalypts silhouetted alongside a pale blue sky, the silver, dull greens of the Gidgee and Mugla branches dancing in the breeze, Desert Wildflowers painted a beautiful picture and craggy rock formations occasionally presented a change of scene.
Spinifex and Turpentine bush lined the sides of the dry, dusty, corrugated, unsealed road with only a few dips where we needed to take care every now and then, each with a measuring stick indicating how deep the puddle/dip becomes in the wet.
50-kilometres on we passed the turnoff to the Century Zinc mine and it was only a matter of minutes before the road turned from relatively good too bad…
… with the last 40-kilometres pretty rough going on a much narrower road where red dust lay thick in the corrugations only to be disturbed from its place of rest by the occasional car that passed, thus creating a great cloud of red obscurity!
Apparently, the zinc mined at Century is transported to Karumba, not by road or rail but by pipeline. Zinc and water are mixed to form a slurry then the slurry is pumped 300-kilometres.
Just when we were starting to think we would never arrive at our next campsite a sign saying ‘Adels Grove 1-kilomete ahead’ appeared on the side of the road!
Adels Grove is an amazing oasis in the middle of nowhere that was once intended to be a botanical garden when a man by the name of Albert de Lestrange started researching and planting exotic plants in the area.
Albert eventually settled in the area making the gardens his life’s work, but in the early 1950s it too was destroyed by fire that swept through the grove destroying his dwelling, all of his research papers and his plantation.
This vast, rugged landscape of Outback Australia certainly has its challenges but it’s the diversity, natural beauty and richness of the country that attract these people time and time again.
During the ‘dry season’ the temperature is scorching hot and then with the ‘wet season’ comes humidity and floodwaters… the later regularly cutting off the highways making the area impassable and off limits, isolating many of those who call the ‘top end’ home!
Aside from these hardships this country still has a beauty that is hard to describe and ‘Outback Queensland’ is a truly a stunning place of plains of limitless red dirt, endless ridges, gorges, waterways and dry and barren grasslands and woodlands!
Come with us on a journey as we explore this land of untamed beauty and one Queensland’s best kept secrets hidden deep within the Gulf Savannah.